Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cambodia April 2012 - Asiana Airlines 202 First Class (ICN-LAX)

***This post is part 18 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

This was hands down the best flight I've ever experienced. Granted, perhaps I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy as many international first class flights compared to other bloggers... but I honestly can't imagine the service or food on any other airline getting much better than this. I kid you not, the attentiveness, consideration, and diligence shown by every single flight attendant working the cabin was bordering on the level of absurdity. And that's a very good thing.

I walked to the gate fairly early since the Asiana Airlines First Class Lounge was starting to freak me out a little bit. The waiting area was still empty when I arrived, but after about half an hour, it started to fill out and lines began to form. As per Asiana tradition, all of the agents took a deep bow prior to the start of boarding.

One of the agents called out for first class passengers, and a few of us gathered around her to the right of the doors. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were only one or two other people waiting with me. An empty first class cabin almost always means friendlier, less-stressed, flight attendants, which typically translates to better service. Once boarding began, we were personally escorted down the jet bridge and into the nose of the 747-400.

Asiana Airlines 202
Boeing 747-400
Seoul (ICN) - Los Angeles (LAX)
Sunday April 8, 2012
Departure: 4:30 PM (scheduled) / 4:35 PM (actual)
Arrival: 11:30 AM (scheduled) / 11:22 AM (actual)
Duration: 11h 00m (scheduled) / 10h 47m (actual)
Seat: 2K (First) 

I'd seen many pictures of Asiana's first class cabin prior to this flight, and despite this being the older configuration (Asiana has since introduced fully-enclosed suites), everything still looked modern and clean. The large seats were spacious, but lacked the higher walls of suites or even semi-suites such as those found in Cathay Pacific's first class cabin. The cushion was maybe a bit on the stiffer side, though that's really a matter of personal preference. Despite these minor shortcomings, I felt like I was afforded plenty of privacy and comfort.

There wasn't a whole lot of storage area around the seat since larger carry-ons still went in the overhead compartments. However, there was enough space for a small bag or personal item underneath the footrest and inside a small cabinet underneath the armrest. As boarding finished, I was glad to see only two other first class passengers in the entire cabin for ten.

The two female flight attendants working the first class cabin were extremely courteous and almost overly respectful (if that's even possible). I was welcomed with a warm smile and introduction, along with a suggestion for pre-departure champagne along with warm nuts. There was no Dom Pérignon or Krug, but I'm no champagne snob, so whatever was served to me tasted perfectly fine ;) And indeed, after the flight, when I looked up the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000 that was poured, I realized that they average $150 per bottle! Yikes.

Amenity kits and pajamas were handed out, and I was really impressed with the quality of both. The pajamas were a lot thicker than Cathay Pacific's version from Shanghai Tang, and the Bulgari skincare products were quite luxurious. At first, I thought the size XL handed to me were going to be huge, but the flight attendant assured me that they would fit well, and she was absolutely right. Slippers were also handed out, and I have to say, they actually felt like real slippers you'd buy for home use with thick padding and comfortable fabric. More pictures of these can be found towards the end of this trip report.

After a smooth take-off, the flight attendants sprang into action. Menus were handed out and preparation for dinner service began. I decided to go with the Western option once again (like my previous Asiana flight), since I eat bibimbap back in the Bay Area regularly. Plus, I've heard so many amazing things about the Western option on Asiana's first class flights that I had to try it out for myself. The nine-course behemoth was a sight to behold even on the menu, and to be honest, I was a little nervous for my stomach as the gastronomic extravaganza began. There was also a very extensive list of champagnes, white wines, red wines, and dessert wines.

A lovely tablecloth was laid out, and the amuse-bouche course was served, featuring a beef bar with truffle and balsamico sauce. I'm not a huge fan of olives, but it actually tasted great mixed with the beef and truffle balsamic jelly. Afterwards, the table was fully prepared with everything perfectly laid out, topped with a nice red rose. I was amazed at how exact every single item was set. The flight attendant would literally adjust each piece by millimeters to make sure their placement was perfect. It was almost like watching a person suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder at work.

The caviar course was next, and I loved how it was served in its own beautiful sealed container, along with a mother of pearl spoon. This was only my second time trying caviar, and it was just as delicious as I remembered it. The courses continued to roll out, one after another, with the king crab and scallop next, followed by the sweet potato soup with chestnut chips, followed by the spinach salad in Italian dressing. I simply couldn't believe I had only gone through the appetizers by then, as I was already verging on being full.

There was no time for rest, however, as the first main course was already served up. The sepia (squid ink) risotto with grilled abalone was ridiculously good. In fact, I don't think I've ever had risotto that good in my life. I probably would have licked the plate clean if the flight attendant wasn't so quick to remove it. The second main course featured a Wagyu tenderloin in peppercorn sauce, and it was cooked perfectly medium-rare and simply delicious.

By then, I was ready to explode, but there was still the cheese and fruit course to power through, along with the chocolate cake for dessert. I suppose dessert was my only disappointment, as I don't particularly enjoy chocolate (especially those of the dense variety). But for those who are chocoholics, it probably would have been heaven on a platter. Finally, some green tea and petit fours capped off this epic feast in the sky.

Needless to say, this meal could have rivaled many Michelin-starred restaurants on the ground. I was simply blown away by how inspiring "airline food" can truly be. But beyond that, the service aspect was just impeccable. I have to say, watching the flight attendants in action for nearly two hours was performance art in itself. They were so good at detecting the exact moment a plate was finished, and would immediately appear to clear the table and prepare for the next course. It was almost uncanny. But before moving anything, they would always ask if I was ready, and if the course I had just finished was to my liking.

After everything had been cleared, I went to the lavatory to change into my pajamas. While there was nothing special about the lavatory itself, there were some nice skincare products from Biotherm and L'Occitane for passenger use. When I returned, I decided to put the seat into lounge mode and pulled out the Bose noise-cancelling headphones to watch a few TV shows on the AVOD system before requesting turn-down service.

The flight attendant immediately prepared the bed, laying out a nicely-padded mattress and soft comforter. While the bed wasn't as wide as those found on Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, it was still very comfortable. Amazingly, after placing a bottle of water next to me and making sure I didn't need anything else, the flight attendant actually tucked me into bed, pulling the sheets snugly around me and wishing me a good night's rest. Honestly, I had never felt so pampered in my life... it was almost a little awkward.

I slept soundly for a good five hours, and by the time I woke up, we only had about two hours left of the flight. The clanking of breakfast preparation had already began, and strangely, despite stuffing my face just a few hours before, I was actually feeling slightly hungry.

The table was set again, and a starter of fresh fruit was served, followed by cereal and yogurt. The bread basket also came around, and I selected a warm croissant. I decided to go with the somewhat lighter option of Korean shrimp and broccoli porridge for the main. Even though the portion was huge, porridge always seems to go down easy and doesn't feel heavy. A couple of delicious side dishes accompanied the main course as well. Service continued to be flawless, with their amazing ability to anticipate any needs before I even knew I had them.

As we began to prepare for descent, a rather funny video began playing on the AVOD system, teaching passengers simple massage and exercise techniques that could be completed while in your seat to reduce fatigue and improve blood flow. The motions were a bit unconventional, but I followed along and chuckled while performing odd twists and bends.

Finally, the flight attendant came by and offered the choice of a farewell gift, including a duffel bag, an iPhone case, or a DVD. I went with the duffel bag as it seemed to be the most useful for me. While I was packing up my personal items, I realized just how much stuff I had accumulated on this flight. I literally could not stuff all of it into my backpack! Unfortunately, I had forgotten to take a picture of the amenity kit, so I've included one here from Frequently Flying's review of the exact same one.

We approached Los Angeles on a beautiful morning, and soon began the 180° turn towards LAX. After a smooth landing, we taxied for a while, and I was able to catch of glimpse of a couple of Qantas A380s along with the new Korean Air A380. The renovations of Tom Bradley International Terminal also seemed to be coming along quickly.

First class passengers were allowed to deplane first, although I ended up staying behind a while longer to take some last-minute pictures of the cabin. I thanked each flight attendant profusely as I exited, as I truly felt like I had just experienced perhaps the finest flight in existence. I'm sure I will have the opportunity to enjoy better hard products in the future on plenty of other airlines, but in terms of soft product, I think Asiana Airlines is truly at the top of the industry.

No comments:

Post a Comment